In September 2017, I wrote about the concept of time as it relates to disability and discipleship, seen through the lens of disability theologian John Swinton’s book Becoming Friends of Time: Disability, Timefullness and Gentle Discipleship. It’s four years later, and I am still recommending that book (and that column).
Add to the book list
I have another book to suggest, one that introduced me to the work of an American disability advocate and his supportive Canadian wife. Our Life Our Way: A Memoir of Active Faith, Profound Love and Courageous Disability Rights was written by William (Bill) Rush and his wife Christine Robinson. Bill was born with cerebral palsy and was the first person with quadriplegia CP to graduate with honours from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in journalism. His determination to show dignity for persons with disabilities shone clearly through his tenacity to communicate with a device, teaching others about patience and authentic listening in conversation.
“When people look at me, all they can see is my large power wheelchair, my large wheelchair tray, my communication device and my welder’s helmet liner that I wear on my head to hold my headstick,” he says. “One of the biggest differences when communicating with me is the speed of conversation. My fastest communication is at eight words per minute using my TouchTalker that says the words for me, while most people talk at a rate of about 120 words a minute (p. 10-11).”
On being human
Bill died on December 13, 2004, leaving behind a legacy of work related to disability awareness in the state of Nebraska and beyond. He was determined to see a mindshift in state government that would allow persons with disabilities to live full lives, according to their capacity – instead of being institutionalized. He and Christine were also determined to create change that would allow them to be married and enjoy life together, a right previously assumed only for the able-bodied. As I read through the book, it was difficult to fathom how many limitations were placed on persons with disabilities, and how hard Bill had to fight to create change, to prove his place in humanity with both his mind and his body.
As a mom of two disabled children, I have a lot to learn about disability rights and disability awareness. I know the supports that are available to our girls are a result of significant advocacy by others who went before us, particularly with regards to communication. Learning from disability advocates such as Bill is both humbling and motivating.
What do you see?
What if I asked you to share what honestly comes to mind when you hear the word disability? The answers might be telling, possibly revealing a deficit-based lens many of us still use to view disability. Stories like Bill’s remind us that disability is not a tragedy nor is it confined to one definition. Though it is not without its challenges, disability is also about opportunity for possibilities.
We live in a culture that has created deceptions about time. We forget that speed isn’t always the telling factor with efficiency and productivity. Rather, it is in the pause we have to give when waiting for a response in conversation, in the extra time needed to open doors, and in the time spent learning from others that we create a better way to do life together. We were not created to be independent of each other but to be interdependent with each other. Time will tell if we’ve learned this well.
More information about William (Bill) L. Rush and his wife Christine F. Robinson can be found online chrisrobinson.ca, where the book is also found.